Friday, 8 May 2009

Lessons of the past, plans for the future

Learning and experience are two fundamental parts of life. Our youth is bound up with education, we are taught what to believe at such a rate that our opinions can change from one week to the next. This is not surprising perhaps, if we are to be seen as Tabula Rasa, blanks slates of humanity which are to be moulded by the words that society chooses to place upon our backs. I have memories of school curricula that covered the Egyptians one week and explored outer space the next, the Vikings and the Vietnam War. With primary school children studying the Bible in religious studies in one class followed by the rise of Nazi Germany in history after lunch, how is a sustained and constant opinion supposed to develop? It doesn't necessarily, it shifts and transforms, until late into the teenage years it sets like concrete.

This is perhaps why society faces such problems today; a multiplicity of ideas and beliefs, opinions and prejudices that each individual stubbornly clasps as a fundamental piece of themselves. What we think becomes an intrinsic part of who we are; What are you? A Christian, a Conservative, an anarchist. When ideas come into direct opposition, serious problems arise. Such ideas can result from a geographic proximity, such as the Jewish - Arab border of Israel and Palestine. The rise of globalisation and the network society has bought more distant worlds, such as the USA and China, closer together; daily they jostle for access to power and resources. With the connected world that communication technologies have created, we're going to be talking to each other a lot more. With this in mind it seems that we ought to try and see life on the other side of the coin and, most importantly, we better work damn hard at trying to get along.

So, with our opinions set firmly in our minds and a world in which these opinions are consistently going to be heard alongside those of other countries, it seems that a compromise must be considered. Western society is not great at admitting fault, nor at learning lessons, and the guilt of colonial brutality and the arrogance of imperialism is something that, beneath the surface, does not sit comfortably on our well-fed shoulders. The leviathon issues of slavery, racial subjugation, and the financial impact of colonialism are surely ghosts that have not yet been laid to rest, particularly by the victims, but they are too bound in the past and muddied by too many voices to be used as a clear example in this argument. Instead, as an example of how Western mindsets, and priorities, can change pragmatically, I will draw on the example of Global Warming in the wake of the current economic crisis. If you look closely, the situation has taken the shape of a large slice of humble pie that, with gathering speed, is heading towards the mouth of the West. Have we the stomach to swallow it?

The hockey stick graph lines, the Stern Report, the 'Day After Tomorrow'. The Kyoto Protocol, the Rio Convention. Amid scientist's warnings, through the mouth piece of the media, the realisation of imminent peril dawned on the Western world. Doomsday predictions, the meteorite that condemned the dinosaur's to history, Chicken Little's cries that 'the sky is falling!' The idea that humanity is not invincible has circulated for hundreds of years in folklore and religion, but with the threat of climate change, humanity became bound up within its own predictions of doom; the world is effectively committing slow suicide. In a way this is a grand symbolic metaphor for the shrinking importance of religion in Western Society; in the past God would one day judge us all, now with our fate in our own hands we were faced with a problem in which we would have to search for the answer within ourselves. So, the West attempted to mobilize the global community, focusing particularly on the high levels of pollution that were attributed to developing countries; India, China, how dare they?

In the meantime, not nearly enough has been done to lower the environmental footprint of Western society. Recycling has been taken on by many, and companies are increasingly going green, but this appears to be out of a desire to be shown to care, rather than a genuine concern for the safety of the planet. It's a win-win situation; if my company goes green, we are saving the environment. Also, because of the growing concern about the environment, especially in the upper and middle classes, more people will use my company's services if the company is seen to be environmentally conscientious. Unfortunately, people make these small decisions which alleviate their guilt, and then jet off on holiday or leave the tap running as they clean their teeth. The spotlight was turned on developing countries; their huge carbon footprints, their smoke billowing, heavy industries, their exploding populations. The expectation of these poorer nations to stop their agricultural and industrial development is shortsighted and hypocritical; the West has expanded uncontrollably for years without a thought for the environment. Now that this expansion has caused the threat of climate change, the Developing world is asked to stop doing exactly what has made the West such a powerful and successful region. Populations that are faced with hunger, drought, warfare, subordination are not going to worry about rising sea levels in 80 years time; this is the luxurious concern of the rich man that has time to ponder! Moreover, much of the environmental damage being done in developing countries is to feed the greedy mouths of the West! The destruction of the Amazon rainforest to clear cattle grazing land for McDonald's cows, the intentionally relaxed environmental regulations of a town who wish to attract the newest Nike sweatshop. As a global system it all very much interlinked, and to apply the pressure of climate change onto developing countries, particularly when the likes of the USA and Australia were slow to commit themselves to change, was hypocritical and cruel. Another example of Western arrogance and its failure to clear up the mess it has made.

The last year however, has seen a shift in the Western mind. A new fear has emerged, crept up behind us quietly and then pounced, smothering society in the blanket of a failed system which for so long we thought had kept us warm. The failure of the economic system! The people who appeared to be pulling the strings of the grand monetary machine about which very little of us understood were practically ignorant themselves! We were fooled by their expensive cars and swagger into thinking that they were experts, surely for those riches they must be! An analysis an discussion of the current economy is not relevant in the context of this argument, but the impact that it has made on the Western mind is. We have a new fear! No jobs, no mortgage, no prospects! British jobs should be for British people! Is he British? But he's black! Re-emerging tensions in Ireland. Police clash with protestors at the G20 Summit. The heartbeat of history begins to pump out its steady rhythm again...

The media has left the subject of climate change alone, instead the stories of economic despair are plastered across headlines and TV screens. The developing countries are now to be supported in their rapid economic development; we need them producing and buying! India has released the world's cheapest car; brilliant, the economy will swell! In the USA the automobile economy is shrivelling and CEO's are queuing up for a Government bailout. Public opinion has turned against the bankers, however, the bankers will be necessary to start the system up again. Fears turn, opinions change, the threat of Global Warming is no doubt the threat that it always was, but the West, amidst the desperate please of scientific researchers, is not listening at the moment. Thanks though, please call again later.

So our current fear is the global economic crisis, before that it was global warming. The threat of Communism grew and receded, following the defeat of Fascism. Prior we had the sinking feeling of slowly losing the international power of the colonies... the ebb and flow of fears has existed since the birth of humanity. Much as the climate has changed; hot and cold, ice age to drought.

The global economic crisis is huge, but it can, and will be overcome. The threat of protectionism and the sentiment expressed at the G20 Summit highlights now, more than ever, the need for global co-operation on major issues. We must also rise to meet the dangers of Global Warming, using the example of how the collapse of the financial system has so fickly diverted our attention from climate change. Our response cannot be a media fad, nor a short-term strategy, but a sustained collaborative approach that changes mindsets as well as practices. The restructuring of the global economy can be used as an opportunity to promote green business; the example of the collapse of the USA automobile trade is perfect. Get rid of the gas guzzlers, condemn them to history like we have done with slavery and torture. They no longer have a place in society, not with the information that we now hold. The West should set an example for the world to follow, combining growth with environmental concerns, and therefore the global threat of global warming will be dealt with not as an enemy, but as a part of everyday life such as the birdsong or the coming of night. People like to question the meaning of life, to ponder a reason for the complex world that surrounds us and our role within it. Here we are faced with a task of enormous scale, and must face it responsibly with an awareness of our past hypocrisies and a new approach to collaborating to find appropriate solutions. I can currently think of no task more meaningful.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The death of discretion

Discretion in modern society is dead. It has been eroded by the abrasiveness of the information age, the in-your-face media, and the idiocy of the celebrities that are forced into our daily lives. Most of all, the death of discretion can be attributed to the ease with which we have chosen to accept this offensive barrage of the sensationalised and the stupid, and have allowed it to penetrate our skin. Worse, we have allowed it to penetrate to our very cores, our runny liquid centres, and as a result it has become part of us. I thought us Brits were respected worldwide for our Great British Reserve, our stiff upper lip, and our impeccable manners. Here I do not wish to bemoan the disappearance of ‘Golden Age’ customs, we must remember that those days saw no problem with slavery, and thought smoking was good for your health. Rather, I think I need to call upon the American phrase: ‘a little too much information.’ All day needless information, mostly complaints and unfounded opinions, attack us like an angry flock of birds, and with the sheer amount of information in circulation, poor old discretion is being ushered to death’s door.

Allow me to include some examples here to illustrate my point. Facebook, the social networking site, is an arena in which anyone can be heard. You can write a ‘status’, you can ‘comment’ on a status, and you can ‘thumbs up a comment’. It’s a layered mesh of opinions and feelings that, unfortunately, are mostly ill-considered and brainless. It is a pointless lasagne of social commentary. I opened my Facebook home page the other day to read ‘John Smith (fictional name) why does it burn when I pee?’ Another humdinger that caught my eye was ‘Joe Bloggs (fictional name) takes it up the ass!’ Good, I thought. Thanks for sharing. Now I do not wish to be overly critical on the authors of these ‘status’ comments for it is entirely possible that they have been ‘Facebook raped’. This term refers to the action of hacking into someone’s account and altering their status in a humorous way. Now, forgive me for coming across all ‘Hotel Rwanda’ here, but although hacking someone’s account may be embarrassing for the victim, I would not go so far as to liken it to rape. In fact, likening ‘Facebook rape’ to sexual assault appears about as coherent as describing the act of ringing someone’s door bell and running away as ‘Knock Down Murder.’

Terms of genuine importance become further distanced with the acts they depict as they fall deeper into the mainstream of society. I apologise but I must again use the word ‘rape’ to make a point, this time in the context of ‘Yawn Rape.’ This is the act of inserting your finger into someone’s mouth whilst they are enjoying a yawn, thereby ruining their pleasant experience. Whilst waiting in line at a cafĂ© I witnessed a customer ‘Yawn raping’ an unsuspecting barrista and guffawing about this with a friend. Wanting to join in the fun I inserted my finger deep into the heart of his chocolate tarte, and informed him of the act of the ‘Cake Rape’ that had just occurred. My victim failed to see the funny side, and I failed to see the difference.

If we let allow discretion to become extinct within our society then we risk losing something that is quintessentially British, something that is part of ourselves. I read an article the other day that claimed that 40% of Britons, if experiencing heart attack symptoms, would ‘wait and see if they got better’ rather than calling ‘999’. This is foolish of course, but there is something within the stoicism, the desire to keep one’s problems to one’s self, which I find deeply admirable. I feel that our media is to be held partially responsible for the problem, for it seems that there is almost no limit to the irrelevance and indignity of the stories that receive column inches. It is often celebrities that highlight the lack of discretion in British society, both through their own behaviour and the feelings that they induce in the British public. The ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ sensation Susan Boyle can be used as an example here. Following her sterling performance on the show, the panel could not help but express the surprise they felt, effectively stating their shock at how such a beautiful voice could come from such an ugly person. Perhaps it was a surprise, but can they not just comment on the lady’s voice alone? For me, the fact that her voice is rated in relation to her appearance undermines her achievement. Could panellist Amanda Holden not praised Boyle’s beautiful voice and then simply stopped? There was no need for her to say what the entire audience was thinking, yet she felt compelled to. The recent death of Jade Goody is another example. Never has the slow death of a young mother released such vitriol and scorn from so many. Goody’s flaws were obvious, she never tried to hide them from anyone, but people demeaned themselves by slating a dying woman, a woman who was simply trying to make money for her family and cling on to the hellish fairytale of the life she’d been given. Of course, Jade is as guilty of poor taste as anyone. Her verbal bullying of Shilpa Shetti on Celebrity Big Brother was notable for a glaring lack of thought and compassion. Her words were steeped in ignorance and spoken within a society in which everyone always has something to say.

The universal freedom of speech is a keystone of our society, and thus we must all express the points of view that we hold; it is exactly what I am doing here. It is necessary however, to realise the extent to which modern society is a connected web of networks that have served to make the general public both the speakers and the audience simultaneously. We must bear this responsibility with dignity and consider the crowds of people that we unknowingly perform to each day. It is unlikely that you would stand on stage and announce just how many times you had vomited the previous night to an audience of friends and family, but it is necessary to realise that the public forums of the Internet offer the same information to the same people. This is an opportunity to spread knowledge, advice, literature, jokes, but for the sake of our selves we must not give out ‘too much information’. To paraphrase the American saying, some things should be kept private, some things should be left unsaid. And when you’re taking advice on manners and tact from the Americans, that’s when you know you’re in real trouble.

Changing our attitudes towards change

The Big Bang sparked an awakening from celestial slumber and the Universe was formed. Organisms grew on earth and slowly evolved over millions of years. The mega-continent Pangaea split apart and was slowly forced by tectonic action into the continental arrangement visible on Earth today. These processes are not finished nor fixed in time simply because humanity has arrived and attempted to make some sense of them. The Universe is still expanding at a remarkable rate, the continents still dragging their feet across the ocean floor on their own dutiful journeys and yes, organisms are still very much evolving. Despite shrouding ourselves in culture and stone we must still acknowledge our place as part of, as opposed to separate from, nature. We are a group of people at the fortunate indices of billions of years of natural change; it is the change that has given us life. However, the attitude of human society towards change is wholly unnatural; it is something we often oppose. We are creatures of habit, allowing things to tick over even if obvious flaws are seen to exist in the world around us, ignoring signs that indicate that things should really be done differently. This mentality has penetrated to the centre of the British vocabulary; don't rock the boat, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Instead our society evolves through a number of shocks to the system; we change only when we are forced to. The recent examples are endless; changes in national security following the 9/11 attacks, changes to hazard mitigation systems after the devastation of the tsunami, the inauguration of the first black president of the United States of America following the disastrous 8 years of Bush's Republican rule. Things change, but only when they absolutely must.

The changes that are made in the wake of these disasters are important, but they are entirely, by nature, after the fact. They do not repair the damage done, nor comfort the families of the bereaved. It is the most eye-catching, media worthy of these disasters that instigate the greatest changes, changes that are often emotive and heavy-handed. Think of the 9/11 attacks, the Muslim Fundamentalists driving planes full of civilians into the Twin Towers in the heart of New York. The repeated images shown on the news, the images of the bodies plummeting to earth, the subsequent newspaper opinion pieces and Hollywood movies. Watching the news that day, one could feel the world change; the strength of the paradigm shift was almost tectonic. With those images in mind, think now of the response. Prolonged, bloody wars fought against hardened terrorists rather than national armies, the dubious nature of such invasions, the brutal irony of fighting the very same men that your country armed... The response of the USA has been heavy handed and rash, ill-advised. It has snowballed, causing thousands of deaths and seriously damaging the geopolitical reputation of the United States. This issue is of far too complex a nature to discuss here, but it is a poignant example of how the Western world reacts to disasters, be they natural or human. We fail to notice the warnings and mounting problems, instead letting things reach pressure boiling point and next, we've got chaos. We rarely react but when we do, guns-blazing and out for a fight, we let emotions blind us to the root of the problems, in turn becoming the architects for someone else's disaster, thousands of miles away.

Disasters of any sort are rarely out of the blue, although they may very well seem that way to the general public. You've just got home from a day's work, have put the kettle on and, wait, what! They've done what? New York? Why! Thousands dead? Unprovoked attack! The invaders are at the gate and I didn't even know we were at war! But rarely are these disasters without warning signs. Instead, problems mount over time. They grow, evolve, take on different shapes and forms. The earth's surface shudders before it cracks open, a volcano smokes before it erupts, in 2001 the US Government were aware that Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks were imminent. All too often, society fails to act until it is too late. Buildings were only made earthquake proof in Kobe, Japan, following the death of 5100 people in a 1995 tremor, the dangerous state of British football stadia was only addressed following the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989. Why are we so short-sighted that we only act when it is time to bury our dead? The same goes for human attacks. We look for revenge in the wake of devastation rather than to foil the attack in the first place. Thankfully, the intelligence agencies appear to have drastically improved at intervention, and the media regularly leak stories of foiled terrorist plots. All the same, it took a spate of attacks in New York, London and Madrid for the authorities to wake up and realise what they had to do to keep the public safe...

Having established that global society is in general poor at reacting to growing problems until they manifest themselves in the form of a disaster, it is now necessary to turn to the two most prescient global concerns of the day; the economic crisis and global warming. The first thing to realise here is that these two matters are very much interlinked. They are not linked in so much as one causes the other, or vice versa, but the way in which we respond to one can help to address the other. For example, if in restructuring the global economy Governments aim to move towards green solutions and reduce their national carbon footprints, then a huge step towards addressing the threat of Global Warming will have been made. At the same time Global Warming, if pollutant emissions are allowed to continue unchecked, will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. If you thought the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis was bad, envision hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile land turned to desert, rising sea levels engulfing nations like Bangladesh and the Maldives, millions of refugees clamouring for help, nations closing borders. A mere two degree centigrade global temperature increase could send human tempers to boiling point. Think this isn't possible? Read the many peer-reviewed and Government approved reports and research projects. Think the temperature won't change? Think of the ice ages, the droughts that have occurred throughout the history. But humans weren't even around then! Do you think this matters? We're around now, and have the scientific data to show that the climate is changing. We also have the data to suggest that our carbon emissions are causing the Greenhouse effect, which increases the rate of Global Warming. Whether we are influencing the heating of the planet, or whether it is occurring naturally is irrelevant; it is happening. Two generations down the line, the lives of your future family could be changed by the decisions we make today. People claim that in one hundred years not that much will have changed. Oh yeah? Think back to 1900. Take a stroll down this century's timeline; world wars, lunar landings, tsunamis, the enfranchisement of women, the threat of nuclear apocalypse. Things change, and what's more, things change for the worse very quickly. A Dystopian future is not as far off as most people would like to think. It all sounds doom and gloom, but the wonderful thing about this situation is that it is in our hands. We've got one up on the dinosaurs in that sense.

So, we have problems. We are in the global economic crisis, which is currently being addressed by Governments across the world. Trillions has been lost, and what's more, faith in what was thought to be a secure system has disappeared. However, slowly but surely, day by day, people are working through the crisis. We are a resilient bunch. The scale of this crisis is beyond doubt, however, there have been a lot worse. No lives have been lost, although we are still waiting on Fred Goodwin, and at least we now know that we have a problem. We can rebuild. I am a firm believer that every cloud has a silver lining, and as the fog of the economic system clears and its haphazard, self-absorbed nature is revealed, we can finally look forward. We can re-build, but not only that, re-build for the better. Like a town struck by an earthquake, let us re-build not with brittle old bricks and wood but with buildings that will withstand seismic shock; our society is rife with so many problems that this global economic shake up has provided us with an opportunity to cure the ailments that have long blighted everyday life. I am going to work here through several examples to illustrate my point.

Currently in the UK, one private secondary school is closing every fortnight as parents can no longer afford to pay the fees. This is going to see an influx of previously privately educated pupils enter the state education system, doubtless prompting the parents to worry of drugs and violence that they have come to associate with non fee paying schools. Now is an excellent opportunity for the Government to raise the standard of state education to a level at which these private schools that have closed need not re-open when the economy recovers; show the parents that they do not need to divide their children from the rest of society. A reduction of the number of private schools can be of great benefit to the private sector. Primarily, it will free up a large number of skilled teachers. It will also see wealthier parents sending their children to state schools, and wealthy parents tend to mean investment. It is clear that the majority of private schools will not close in the recession, and the old institutions of boarding schools like Wellington and Eton are always going to attract a certain type of person, and that is fine, there is no need to strive to make everyone the same. However, the economic crisis has presented the Government with a genuine opportunity to raise the reputation and quality of state schools across the country. Education has a major role to play in the social structure of this country. It is an opportunity to put children of more pointed difference together at an early age before their prejudices become set in stone, let them learn that they're not different, don't give them a clearly defined other to fear. We worry not about what we know but what we do not know, and the state / private divide gives children an opportunity to develop prejudices against people on the other side of the wall without ever having met them. Kids love to play games that pit one group in perpetual, violent opposition against another: cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. Let's not teach the children to view the rich and poor as groups that cannot live, work and play side by side; as two sides that must be in a constant state of battle in playground games amongst the caterwalls and laughter. In the form of the economic crisis, we now have an opportunity to address this issue and build for the future.

The economic crisis has also presented an opportunity to address the unequally distributed appeal that professions in the UK job sector hold. Until very recently, financial jobs in the City of London were the most attractive jobs for a young man in the UK, without doubt. The benefits of these jobs were plain for all to see; fancy cars, sky scrapers, sharp suits. The wages were all six figure, before they were bestowed with grand bonuses, of course, and everyone knows stories of long, alcohol-fuelled lunches on the company card. Furthermore, these men were seen to be pulling the strings of the global economic system, generating investment and generally managing things that the rest of us couldn't understand. The Government showered in the millions of pounds that the City threw at them in the form of taxes; they wished not to bite the hand that fed them. The financial boys were the broad-shouldered Masters of The Universe, the packhorses pulling at the cart of progress. Then, with the power of a champagne cork popping, the bubble burst, and the steel and grass structures of Canary Wharf began to shake with the frailty of a house of cards. The bankers were left royally flushed. Banking has become a mere profession again, and what's more, a profession that hangs its head in the knowledge of failure. Here is where opportunity knocks. It is time to wrest back the aspirations of youth, remove the pound signs from their eyes and show them the world of employment that lies before them. In the past it has been the best-educated children that wish to work in the City, perhaps because they have grown up in an environment of money and therefore cannot envision a life without it. However, it does not seem right that those blessed with the best education use it simply to further their own self-interests in the Square Mile! Although the recession is bad, the economy will recover, and the Government will need the City to prosper in order to drive this recovery. The City will be back, so the Government must use this window to promote other employment sectors to attract graduates; law, the civil service, teaching. By regulating the wages and bonus system that the financial sector has for so long enjoyed, whilst at the same time increasing the prestige and pay of other professions, a vital step in restructuring this archaic and entirely uneven financial system will have been taken.

Other steps also need to be taken. The financial system must be scrutinized to greater regulation and must be held accountable for its mistakes; a link must be made between the endless zeros on a traders screen and the money that pays for food and hospitals. Furthermore, the immediate global collaboration that international Governments have shown must be used for issues besides the economy; nuclear disarmament, the ongoing wars, climate change. Through an increased international dialogue geopolitical relations will drastically improve. It will bring a closeness between nations; people will realise that we're not all that different, that we all see the same stars by night. With increased closeness the desire to bomb each other to Hell will hopefully recede. As mentioned earlier, we fear what we do not know. That's why the Iron Curtain was terrifying in its opacity. That is why North Korea worries us today. A greater dialogue between nations can only be a cause for good. Here, however, it is important to redress the issue of the environment, for the global economic crisis is an opportunity to restructure, to 'Go Green'.

The examples of ways in which we can reduce emissions through economic restructuring are numerous. In saving the ailing US automobile industry the unnecessary gas guzzlers can be condemned to history, for they are no longer needed. Don't worry America, the West has been settled! All the Indians are dead or drunk, the perimeter fence surrounding your house has been constructed and you no longer need an enormous boot to transport dead buffaloes. Let's move with the times. The same applies for construction, for it appears to have stopped. The employment opportunity for architects is down 760%, but in time, the building will start again. The British Government must pass new regulations to ensure that all buildings are constructed with energy efficiency in mind, now is the time to act. We must try and ween ourselves off non-renewable energy sources and consider the options of renewable energy sources as viable alternatives rather than simple experiments. Even now, the melting Arctic icecap is providing a source of geopolitical debate because of the resources that lie untapped beneath the ice. Nations are making opposing claims to the landmass so as to gain access to the oil, but what kind of message does this send out to the public? Whilst concurrently stressing a need for sustainable energy sources, world leaders squabble over the oil beneath the Arctic! What is even worse is that this oil has only become available because of the melting of the ice caps, which our overuse of non-renewable energy sources has helped cause! This is an example of the mindset that Governments are adopting towards climate change; they are acting pragmatically and are yet to act as if they are aware that they are facing a genuine problem.

Perhaps then, it is a simple matter of language that needs addressing here. We are currently dealing with the 'threat' or 'danger' of Global Warming, or the 'problem' that it poses. It is not yet the Global Warming 'crisis' nor 'catastrophe', and although telltale signs have begun to emerge, we are yet to face the first disaster of a warming world. Is that then what the leaders of the world are waiting for? A disaster! It is currently in our hands, we have been lucky enough to see the pre-historic meteor on the sky line and have the intelligence and power to divert it elsewhere. Before the crisis emerges, before the scales tip with disastrous consequences, let's do something that we've not been very good at in the past; act before the horse has bolted, before our neck rests in the crook of the guillotine. The global economic crisis has opened the eyes of the world and shown us that change was needed, before that President Obama showed us how good change could feel, what we can do if we set about it with our heads and our hearts. We must now extend this desire for change towards our environmental attitudes. In Britain, we currently have the technology to live our lives at 60% greater energy efficiency. The question that should be ringing in the ears of international Governments currently is; what are we waiting for? Have we learned the lessons of the past? Or do we want the guilt of inaction hanging like a lead weight around our necks.

Coming up for air

In a normal day, one wonders where the time goes. You wake up, commute, work, it's time for lunch. Back to work, then the commute home. In the evening it is likely that you're drained from work, maybe if you have the energy you head to the gym, or enjoy time with family and friends. Days fly by, piled up somewhere in the warehouse of time. You know that they exist although there is no real indication that they ever happened, no evidence of their remains but a held memory. Time moves fast, so fast in fact that's it is amazing that we manage to keep up with it.

Keen not to be left behind, the world moves pretty fast too. Facilitated by the global network society, news travels nearly instantaneously; there is no limit to what one can know about the world, and as a result, perhaps today there is little excuse for a total ignorance of it. Some knowledge of the global situation is important, for as the 9/11 tragedy showed us, there is no longer such a thing as a distant threat. Advances in technology means that a problem on the other side of the world must concern us, for we are not out of reach of the consequences. No-one is.

I am not suggesting that we must become involved in all geopolitical matters, certainly not. We have seen the turmoil that the USA has stirred in the Middle East, the War on Terror has been much like using a bee-hive for a punch bag. The purpose of this blog is to discuss some of the issues of a changing society, a world that moves so fast that it is difficult to hold any one opinion for a sustained period of time. The threats come thick and fast; climate change, terror, the global economic crisis, now swine flu. This blog can be used as a pause to come up for air, take a breath and consider these issues that affect us all.

The articles I post will vary greatly, some light-hearted, some serious, some concerning social matters, others concerning the geopolitics of the global system. Most importantly, everything I post will be something that I feel is an issue worthy of discussion, and this is where the readers of the blog must help out. Please offer opinions on any articles, on the issues discussed or simply the way that they are written. Once I begin to write I have a tendency to get carried away, and thus some of the articles are quite long. I hope this is not off putting, but please let me know if it is and I will try and adjust my style.

We have much to think about and discuss, and I feel now that the stakes we're playing for are higher than ever. Thanks very much for reading.